Commentary

Vandy on verge of major coup

Several in-state prospects could pledge to Commodores together next week

Updated: June 23, 2011, 5:37 PM ET
By Jamie Newberg | ESPN Recruiting

Some of the top prospects from the state of Tennessee are trying to organize a day and time late next week to announce their college decision together.

There's a possibility six prospects will make their choices at a yet-to-be determined hotel or sports bar in Nashville on Friday. Those six are Caleb Azubike (Nashville/McGavock), Blake Bars (Nashville/Montgomery Bell Academy), Cory Batey (Nashville/Ensworth), Drae Bowles (Jackson/Christian), Andrew Jelks (Paris/Henry County) and Brian Kimbrow (Memphis/East).

Bowles, a member of the ESPNU 150, is the highest-ranked prospect among them. Kimbrow, like Bowles, is another four-star prospect. Three of the other four are three-star prospects.

There is a common school amongst this group -- Vanderbilt. Yes, the Commodores and James Franklin could have a gargantuan recruiting day next week. The players are being coy, but it could be a red-letter day for the Black & Gold.

"There is no doubt that Vanderbilt is the surprise team of the spring and summer on the recruiting trail and James Franklin and his staff should be commended for the job their doing thus far," ESPN Recruiting Coordinator Craig Haubert said.

These are uncharted waters for the Commodores. Vanderbilt has brought aboard only one four-star prospect In the history of the ESPNU 150 (since 2006). If Bowles and Kimbrow do pledge that would bring Vandy to five four stars in this class.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Azubike
Tom HauckCaleb Azubike, a Nashville product, said his list is down to Vandy, Mississippi State and Boston College.
"I am down to Vandy, Mississippi State and Boston College," said Azubike, a three-star defensive end. "I have been talking with Brian [Kimbrow] for a while. We have become almost inseparable, like brothers. Then I started talking with Cory. I talk all the time with Drae and Andrew as well. We have all become very close, and I sure hope we land at the same school."

First it was just thrown out there, about the possibility of committing together. Now it looks like it will be reality.

"We came up with the idea of all doing it together," Azubike said. "First it was just talk and then it became serious. We all started talking every day. It's like all the top undecided guys. And do you know what? There's a good possibility we are all going to the same school."

Currently, Vanderbilt is sitting on eight commitments, including seven from the Peach State. Prospects such as defensive ends Josh Dawson (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) and Stephen Weatherly (Atlanta/North Atlanta) and linebackers Darrion Herring (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) and Jacob Sealand (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) have given their pledges to Vanderbilt. This class already is inside the ESPNU Top 25 team rankings, at No. 24.

"What is more impressive than the numbers at this point is the caliber of player which you generally have not seen in the past with Vandy," ESPN Director of Recruiting Tom Luginbill said. "Coach Franklin and his staff have obviously put together an ambitious plan and seem to be executing it very well given their difficult challenges in terms of academics and facilities."

In his short time in Nashville Franklin has taken Vanderbilt to new heights in recruiting within the rugged SEC. And it happened virtually from the start. He was named the head coach of the Commodores in mid-December. Quietly, Vanderbilt closed it 2011 recruiting class very well, landing a handful of top end recruits over the last week or so leading up to National Signing Day such as quarterback Josh Grady (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), athlete Lafonte Thourogood (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes), tight end Dillon van der Wall (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) and defensive end Barron Dixon (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee).

It was a job very well done, especially considering the short recruiting window he and his staff had. Franklin told ESPN last week that he has a great sales pitch.

"Vanderbilt is an unbelievable thing to sell," Franklin said. "You can get a world-class education that lasts 40-50 years not just the next four. We are not about a logo or a jersey. Vanderbilt has your best interest. You also get an opportunity to play in the SEC and in a great town like Nashville."

Luginbill gives Franklin credit but is cautious, too.

"You have to create an identity and be very creative, but have a reasonable plan given your resources," Luginbill said. "In the early-going it is very clear Franklin has Vandy on the right track. Keep in mind it is very, very early."

Yes, it's early. But just like there is momentum in a game, there is momentum in recruiting. That's why next week looms large.

Kimbrow is an electrifying if undersized skill player who would be the rare Vandy commit from the Memphis area.

"Yeah, I will be committing next week," Kimbrow said. "I am deciding between Vandy, Cincinnati, Mississippi State, Auburn and Notre Dame.

"A bunch of us from Tennessee will [commit next week]. Some of these guys I have played with on a 7-on-7 team. We are all competitive and we get along very well. We just have developed a real good chemistry. I am hoping we all go to the same school and perhaps make a big name for that school."

Batey, a wide receiver, is considering Vandy, South Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas State.

It appears Jelks, an offensive tackle, will make his decision next week but will be unable to join his new friends because he will be on vacation. Jelks is considering Vandy, Alabama and Tennessee. Meanwhile, Bars and Bowles have not confirmed whether they are announcing next week.

In addition, there's speculation that another prospect or two could join the recruiting party in Nashville. It appears the day will be Friday, but because a few of these recruits play together on a 7-on-7 team, the big announcement could be pushed up to Thursday. If things unfold like some are suggesting, the Music City will be humming late next week.

Etienne picks Wisconsin

Wisconsin picked up a verbal commitment Thursday from one of the top-rated defensive backs from South Florida in Hugs Etienne (Plantation, Fla./South Plantation). He's a cornerback prospect that recorded 35 tackles and three interceptions last season as a junior.

"I did my research on Wisconsin and they have a great school," Etienne said. "They have a great engineering program and I love engineering. They also have a bunch of guys from South Florida. I also really like Coach (Charlie) Patridge. My parents liked him and my brother did as well. I always thought he was a cool guy. I just want to go there and do my things and do the best I can. I would love to play early."

Etienne, 5-11 and 175 pounds, doesn't lack confidence for the cornerback position.

"I lock things down," Etienne said. "My strengths are my speed, quickness and aggression. I also have very good footwork."

Etienne committed to Wisconsin over West Virginia, Bowling Green, Kansas and Northern Illinois.

"I haven't been to Wisconsin yet but I plan on going to Madison very soon," Etienne said. "I am very excited to get up there."

Maryland picks up two commits

The Maryland Terrapins just picked up commitments from quarterback Caleb Rowe (Greer, S.C./Blue Ridge) and cornerback Alvin Hill (Locust Grove, Ga./Luella).

"I committed to Maryland because I really like the coaches and the players," Rowe said. "They seem like really cool guys and great people. I really liked the place and so did my parents. I also like Coach [Randy] Edsall and the direction of the program. To be honest, I was ready to make a decision."

Rowe has been busy on the camp circuit. Maryland was his 10th college camp over the last two weeks.

"Camp went well," Rowe said. "Although I think my arm is about to fall off. My shoulder is sore. But I was impressed with Maryland. They are building a lot of new, nice facilities and I really like everything about the program."

"My strengths are my leadership and the ability to make plays and have fun," Rowe said. "I am the type of quarterback that can make all the throws."

Hill made his choice earlier Thursday afternoon. Like Rowe, he was very comfortable with the staff and direction of the program under their new leadership.

"I was comfortable with Coach [Tom] Bratten," Hill said. "I like the tradition and what they stand for. They also play in a competitive conference and they have showed me a lot of love. I went up for camp and really liked the place. It was very professional and the campus is great. Plus, I am really excited about the direction of the program."

Hill, 5-11 and 180 pounds, knows nothing will be handed to him.

"When I get up there I don't want anything special," Hill said. "I just want to work hard and work my way up the ladder."

Hill committed to Maryland over Appalachian State, MTSU and Chattanooga. Rowe committed to the Terrapins over Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest. Maryland now has six commitments.